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RIM boss: 'Our PlayBook shames the You Know What'

Unruly mob boos iPhone

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MWC 2011 Never has anyone spent so much time talking about Apple without saying the ‘A’ word than RIM CEO Jim Balsillie as he showed off the company's upcoming PlayBook tablet at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Playing to the gallery of operators – a congregation that booed when the iPhone 4 won ‘best handset’ at last night’s GSMA awards – he talked about how the PlayBook does things the unmentionablepad doesn’t, and how those things will make money for networks.

Balsillie was on stage with fellow CEOs Stephen Elop of Nokia, Dr Paul Jacobs of Qualcomm, and Ryuji Yamada of NTT DoCoMo. The topic: “Connecting the Dots - A 360° View on Consumer Electronics”. Given that this was a pants thing to ask them, they all wisely gave a nod to it and then talked about what they wanted to talk about.

What Jim Balsillie wanted to say was: “Hey, you know that sexy new tablet? We can do that too. You know that sexy new handset/operator alliance aimed at operators? We can do that too.” But he was more subtle.

RIM is now a Consumer Electronics company because it has a tablet. Embracing the Consumer Electronics element, he talked of a “constructive alignment” of Consumer Electronics companies with carriers – an alignment that was the difference between going through the operators' billing systems and going over the top and disintermediating the carrier.

What makes the PlayBook great, he said, is that it supports real-time multitasking with symmetric multiprocessing. It’s also open – although everyone has different measurements of ‘open’ and no mention was made of OS openness.

Who pays the piper

What is open is the choice of dev systems: you can use HTML5, Dreamweaver, JavaScript, and CSS. This is what the CEOs of the carriers want. Support for various flavours of 4G will also make carriers salivate. In deference to the GSMA hosts, he didn’t mention WiMAX. But the PlayBook can do that.

Balsillie went on to look at mobile devices for payments. This starts with carrier billing for BlackBerry App World offerings, a brave thing to highlight because RIM only has agreements with a handful of carriers while Nokia has over 100 such agreements. But Stephen Elop was too much of a gentleman to point this out.

Carrier billing is ostensibly about a seamless experience for the user, buying your Angry Birds Mighty Eagle without having to type in a credit card number in the middle of the game. In truth, it’s about getting operators to buy your kit because there is ongoing money in it.

Treading delicately on the toes of financial regulation, Balsillie announced the ability to send operator credit from one BlackBerry to another with BlackBerry Messenger, gifting airtime and applications. He needs to be careful with this as it won’t be legal in some countries, and if there were ever any hint of turning that credit back into cash, the financial might of most financial regulators would descend on him.

He confirmed the rumours that there will be an NFC-enabled device, going further by saying that it is possible that all future BlackBerry devices will have NFC, mirroring an announcement Nokia made last November for all smartphones.

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